Marie [Boylan] and I were delighted to receive a Belltable:Connect commission for our play ‘Red Army’ last June. Writers work in a void – we never know if our work will be commissioned or funded. We never know if it will make it onto a stage. Belltable:Connect managed to address both these issues in one fell swoop. We knew that the commissioned plays would be showcased to a public audience in November so we could finesse the script with that in mind. This is the best way to test a script. Prior to the showcase, we worked with the four actors and director for two long and exhausting sessions.
If the play was a car, then this was the
garage, where it went through rigorous testing, adjusting and stripping. This
was a brilliant learning process and watching a director (the wonderful Jean
McGlynn) at work with the actors was a lesson in itself. Words on a page take
on a whole new life when spoken and acted and the script shape-shifted accordingly.
Actors ask very tough questions and we needed to be on our toes with the red
pen. This was invaluable to us – to have actors, a director, a studio, tech
time in preparation for the reading – what an incredible resource for
playwrights to have.
night itself was a great success. It was wonderful to sit in the audience and
watch the work of our Limerick peers while we waited for our piece. After the
first on cue laughs from the audience, we relaxed and enjoyed our own play (Is
that possible?). The audience reaction was excellent. We left the Belltable,
determined that the next time we hear our own words, spoken and acted, that it
would be the full play. The whole story.
We always love to hear about the impact Belltable:Connect has on participating artists. In this case, we are absolutely delighted that a short play Henry Martin wrote as part of Belltable:Connect Theatre Makers in 2017, is receiving a production in London’s Bunker Theatre. Congratulations to Henry and break legs to the production team.
Following the first work-in-progress rehearsed reading of Displace at Belltable a week ago, Artist in Residence Katie O’Kelly shares her thoughts on seeing the play come to life on stage for the first time.
Sitting in the front row of the Belltable last Wednesday watching actors read my work in progress script of Displace was a surreal moment. I usually perform in my plays, but for the purpose of the reading I had my writer hat on so was watching it with the audience. I’ve never actually heard any of my plays performed before, so it was a terrifying and thrilling experience. The actors were amazing and breathed life into the characters which have, until that night, existed only in my head.
We started off the reading with a brief talk with Limerick-based actor Frances Healy, who performed in The Magdalene Sisters, and Donnah Vuma, a founding member of MASI (Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland) and Every Child is Your Child, and campaigner to end direct provision. It gave a context to the work, and an insight into the systems of marginalization, isolation and oppression which the play depicts. It was an honour to share the stage with such brilliant, strong and courageous women, and I’d like to thank them both for taking part and sharing their experiences with us.
A trio of very talented actors then took to the stage to read the work in progress script. Georgina Miller, Sahar Ali and Niamh McGrath were exceptional at weaving the story together and presenting us with the many characters depicted in both the worlds of the Magdalene Laundry and the Direct Provision centre. At the end of the reading the audience was given the opportunity to give feedback on the script, and I had the chance to ask questions about what worked within the story and what needed further developing. It was so great to get feedback from people in the audience who are directly affected by the direct provision system in Ireland at the moment, and to see what else I can bring to the worlds to make them clearer and richer for those watching it.
The reading was sensitively staged by director Sarah Baxter and the feedback session was articulately presented by dramaturg Pamela McQueen. The brilliant Mags O’Donoghue steered us through the technical side of things, with producer Clara Purcell working miracles throughout the day to ensure the smooth running of the whole event. For a play which is so much centred on the female experience in these systems, it was crucial to have such a competent, committed and talented team supporting the work. A huge thanks to all who came along and to those involved in bringing it to the stage. I am feeling fired up and excited about getting started on the next draft, and can’t wait to get a full production up on its feet!
The next performance in the development of Displace will take place in Belltable in December 2018. We will continue to keep you updated on the piece’s progress through Belltable:Connect blogs.
Ahead of the work-in-progress rehearsed reading of Displace at Belltable on Wednesday, June 23rd, at 8pm one of the actors who will help bring the piece to life Georgina Miller wrote about the piece.
Hi, I’m Georgina Miller, and I am one of the actors taking part in the public reading of Displace in Belltable on 20th June. I was thrilled to be asked, as it’s a powerful piece with a story that is so relevant and touching. Good writing is not easy to come by and, as an actor, this play is a gift.
The two story-lines, each with their own inherent drama, compliment each other really well. Set in two different times in the same building in Limerick – a Magdalene Laundry in the 1950s, which has been converted in the present day to a Direct Provision Centre. The struggles within masked by its walls are as heartbreaking today as they were in the laundry days.
To my shame, I knew very little about the process and conditions for asylum seekers here in Ireland. I think Katie O’Kelly has done a wonderful job of presenting the reality of their day-to-day existence. She’s also breathed real life into the whispered stories and headlines of existence for women in the Laundries.
I know sometimes it can turn people off when you say that a piece of theatre is important, but this one truly is. We can’t shy away from the horror of our past, nor be ignorant to the failings of our system in the present. That said, the play is also warm and light-hearted in places, and the authentic female relationships and companionships are brilliantly represented.
I’m a mum of two small kids and, for me, it’ll be interesting to see how that experience informs my connection with this work. Both women in the play are dealing with their difficult circumstances whilst having the responsibility of another small human to consider. The role of a mother is a complex and challenging one at the best of times, and these women are forced to carry that out under extraordinary conditions.
Katie has written a remarkably accomplished and engaging piece—it had me in tears on my first reading, and I’m really looking forward to seeing and hearing the audience’s reaction to it on the night.
Georgina has been working as an actress for fifteen years across theatre, TV, film and radio. She is also an experienced and busy voice-over artist.
Displace is being developed as part of Katie O’Kelly’s artist in residency at Belltable, supported by Limerick Arts Office. This reading marks World Refugee Day. To book tickets for the work in progress reading of Displace at Belltable on Wednesday, June 20th, at 8pm phone box office on 061 953400, ext 1 or visit our website.
An account from one of the last Magdalene Laundries in Dublin that closed in 1996. I remember 1996. Mary Robinson was the first female President of Ireland. ‘Ballykissangel’ was on the telly, and the film ‘Michael Collins’ was premiered. I saw the set of the burned out Four Courts when I was a kid. Mick McCarthy was manager of the Irish football team and the Spice Girls released their girl-power smash hit Wannabe.
On our street in Dublin, we spent the summer making up dance routines to it in our cycling shorts and Boyzone Tshirts. It’s hard to believe that while we were arguing about who got to be Sporty Spice there were women incarcerated in Laundries all over the country, never told when they would get out and forced to work in excruciating conditions for no money. Free slave labour. I found out recently that one of the last Laundries to close was in Donnybrook, five minutes from where I grew up.
Last week we Repealed the 8th Amendment, a huge win for women’s rights that have been oppressed and silenced for too long. But we still have a long way to go in unearthing and comprehending the systematic abuse inflicted on so many women for so long in this country. Justice must be sought. The church still hasn’t paid out the vast majority of what it owes to Magdalene Survivors. They seem to essentially be sitting on their hands until it is too late and there are no survivors left.
On Tuesday evening, I was outside the Mansion House as eight bus loads of Magdalene Survivors were driven to the Mansion House for a reception with the Lord Mayor and the President of Ireland. I bawled my eyes out at the sight of all these amazing women, ranging from their 40s to 90s, who had suffered so much at the hands of the Irish State and the Catholic Church. One woman shouted to me that the women of Ireland have ended this with the referendum, the stranglehold that our country has been in since the foundation of the Republic. But we still have a long way to go to fight for justice for Magdalene Survivors. We cannot afford to be complacent ever again. And we cannot forget our collective past.
This piece was written by Belltable Artist in Residence 2018 Katie O’Kelly. Read the Irish Times article which inspired this post here.
To book tickets for the work in progress reading of Displace at Belltable on Wednesday, June 20th, at 8pm phone box office on 061 953400, ext 1 or visit our website.
Clara Purcell has worked in theatre, film and TV production since 2012. She was production assistant on the feature-length documentary Nuala – A Life (2012, Accidental Pictures) and worked in production support in RTÉ for four years. Producing credits include Dubliner’s Women (2016, The New Theatre), which toured to Belltable in November 2017, and Norah (2018, The New Theatre). She has been Front of House & Marketing Manager of The New Theatre, Temple Bar since 2015.
Clara has been working with Belltable Artist in Residence Katie O’Kelly, dramaturg Pamela McQueen and director Sarah Baxter ahead of the June 20th work in progress reading of Displace at Belltable. Find out more about Clara’s work and the progress on the rehearsed reading so far in our question and answer session below.
Q. What has your role as producer of Displace entailed to date?
One of my main jobs as producer is to make sure that we are keeping in budget for the project and keeping track of our expenses. I have also been lucky enough to get the job that EVERYBODY wants when making theatre – applying for funding!
On a project that is based on real events and experiences, some of which are ongoing, it’s crucial that all members of the creative team get a sense of the worlds of the play. For this reason I organised a research trip to Limerick city where we visited the College of Art and Design which was formerly a Magdalene Laundry and Knockalisheen Direct Provision centre just outside the city where we met some of the residents. This field trip was crucial to fully understanding the gravity of the material we are tackling in the play.
I’ve also been working with Katie and director Sarah Baxter on organising the development workshop in May and the rehearsed reading in June – selecting and booking cast members, arranging the logistics of getting everybody in the rehearsal room and organising schedules to ensure we can get the most out of the time. The fun part is getting to sit in on the workshop and seeing the piece develop more and more each day. Having finished the workshop, our focus now is on the first public reading of the work in development on June 20th in Belltable.
Q. How much progress has been made in the project so far?
Katie has been working closely with dramaturg Pamela McQueen and director Sarah Baxter on the script since the project began late last year. Since then she has been busy meeting with people in the Direct Provision centres in Limerick and researching accounts of the Magdalene Laundries too. Katie is now working on her third draft of the script, having made amazing progress in our workshop two weeks ago with a fantastic cast of actors – Roseanna Purcell, Niamh McGrath and Sahar Ali. Sarah and Movement Director Bryan Burroughs helped to create a physical interpretation of the two worlds in the play which gave another dimension to the piece and Pamela helped Katie to restructure the script and develop the characters. We’re really excited to get feedback on this current draft from the audience following the reading on June 20th. The support from Belltable so far has been brilliant in providing rehearsal space, marketing support and really helpful suggestions and advice on the project. We can’t wait to show you what we’ve been up to!
Q. What should audiences expect from the work in progress reading on June 20th?
Audiences should expect to be drawn into two worlds by a brilliant cast of Sahar Ali, Niamh McGrath and Limerick-based Georgina Miller. They will have the chance to engage with the piece directly, giving notes and feedback to the playwright on how the play could develop. They will also get the chance to hear amazing speakers, Donnah Vuma and Francis Healy share their thoughts and personal experiences with the themes of the play.
Hearing your own work read for the first time by actors is both exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure. It somehow makes it real, takes it out of your head and brings it to life. It’s a strange experience, after carrying the world of the play around in your head for so long. To hear it spoken by other voices throws up so many new ideas that it can be difficult to jot them all down. They tumble out.
Last week we got to do a development week on ‘Displace’ as part of the Belltable residency. It was an amazing experience, to get to develop a work-in-progress with such a great team of supportive people. Our actors were Sahar Ali, Roseanna Purcell and Niamh McGrath, with Sarah Baxter directing, Bryan Burroughs as movement director and Pamela McQueen as dramaturg. As Bryan put it, it was great getting the opportunity to work ‘just us girls’ :-).
We started by reading through the script a couple of times to get familiar with the story and characters. I don’t think I breathed for the first read. But everyone was so positive and supportive that it made it much easier than I thought it would be, and I relaxed. They gave some great feedback on the script, what parts really worked and suggestions for parts that weren’t quite there yet. I went home after the first day feeling energised and excited to start rewriting.
The movement days were Bryan were invaluable. Very often when I’m writing, I become overly reliant on words at first; they are a safe area. No playwright wants to have blank paper staring at them. But through the movement exercises you begin to see what can be spoken and created through the actors’ bodies on stage, and sometimes it can be far more affecting and powerful in the absence of words. Particularly in the two worlds of the play, where language is so different. In the Laundries for example, the women were forbidden from talking to each other. They only spoke in prayer. Yet friendships were formed secretively, a whispered, hushed form of friendship. In the direct provision centres, language can be a barrier between people from different countries and cultures, often when they are sharing rooms. It creates a whole new level of integration that has to be dealt with. The body can sometimes tell us what words cannot, and this can be particularly interesting on stage.
One of the days was spent with myself, Pamela and Sarah dissecting the second draft of the script, pulling it apart and then putting it together again, to see what structure works best to tell the story we want to tell. This was a really helpful experience as a writer, because so often we can get stuck in one way of thinking; it can become difficult to see different paths the story could take. But opening up to get new perspectives on it can lead to interesting discoveries about the characters and their individual journeys in the story.
After so many great chats, exercises and ideas, I’m scribbling away like mad to get a new draft ready for the rehearsed reading on June 20th in the Belltable. This will be a new step for me as a writer, I’ve never done a reading of a work in progress in front of an audience before so it’ll be brilliant to see what new ideas it sparks!
And so are you Marketa. The boys from Fishamble ain’t so bad either 😉.
All jokes aside, I just really want to say thank you for the place on the Belltable:Connect mentorship programme. It was a valuable experience.
Driving down to Limerick city once a month over the past 10 months to meet and connect with other emerging directors in the Beltable theatre was exciting. The directors group was hosted by Jim from Fishamble theatre company, whose manner is so chilled he put us all at ease.
It was full of first times for me and first times can be nerve wrecking. This is my first time to ever blog!!!!!.
But it was also my first time to ever pitch. My first time to sit in on a mentorship programme, my first time in THE Beltable theatre, my first time having any connection with Limerick City and my first time meeting all the other young, hip, cool emerging directors and Jim.
Little by little we got to know each other, our styles, our preference and our projects, through the monthly meet ups and chats.
It was great. Hopefully we will meet again. Until then onwards and upwards.
This is my second attempt at a blog post. The first was written a few days after a run of a show I’d directed. I was writing about the post-show bubble and how difficult it is to review your own work without letting other people’s opinions, good and bad, influence your relationship with it, yet how necessary it is to reflect on the whole experience in order to move on to the next thing.
I didn’t submit that blog because the more I read it, the more critical I became of it (which was fitting giving the subject matter) so I decided I’d wait and write again while away on an upcoming trip which might give me a new perspective.
Now I am on that trip, in Belgium, attending shows in Brussels as part of KunstenFestivalDesArtes, and in Ghent to explore the work of Ontroerend Goed. The work I have seen so far is a mixture of performance art and political interactive theatre. Some of it I have found quite inaccessible – it seemed more about the artists’ intellectual ideas as opposed to the execution of a piece that left room for an audience.
The shoe is on the other foot now, as I experience, interpret and judge the work of others, just a couple of weeks after churning over how to take praise and criticism of my own. I’m looking at these performances as an audience member, a [sensitive] critic and a theatre maker. I find hope in the things I don’t like, because I feel I can do better, and I find inspiration in the things I do like because it makes me want to be a better artist.
The work I have seen here traverses a line between stage and spectator, performance art and theatre, science and philosophy, film and lecture. These are not theatre pieces as such but happenings, protests, experiences, live art. I realise that although I talk about the desire to make theatre which is unpredictable and disruptive, I still want my work to involve skill, heart, aesthetic and a sense of artistry. Much of what I have seen here does not have that – the idea is the piece, rather than central to it; the execution seems disregarded and this is where I encounter a tension within myself.
I feel quite lucky that I can come away here and have these experiences and reflections. It’s great to be able to go and see work outside of Ireland as it informs my perspective and reminds me that it’s all relative. Last year I attended a workshop in London where participants complained about how theatre in the UK is too traditional, yet often in Ireland we regard theatre in the UK as being progressive (and obviously there are many organisations there which are). On the other side of that, this year I’m experiencing work which is so untraditional, it makes me wonder where the line is between accessibility and experimentalism. So much of this depends on audiences, on the appetite for the arts in any given place. Who am I making the work for? What am I responding to?
I’m not altogether sure where this leaves me in relation to my own theatre making and the post post-show bubble. The piece I recently directed was not experimental but it afforded me the opportunity to try out some simple yet potentially risky ideas, to work with somebody else’s script and a smaller cast. All of these elements of the traditional theatre process gave me secure conditions in which to create work and as such I learned an awful lot about directing. For my next piece, I plan to write it myself but leave room for collaboration and devising, working with a small cast and drawing on elements of Dadaism and post-dramatic theatre. A few weeks ago, I might have thought I was proposing something cutting edge but by European standards, this is nothing new – this is old hat. And that’s OK. I’m not making this piece for KunstenFestivalDesArtes and while I’m glad to have another context in which to place what I want to do, I’m not going to change my perspective to try to be relevant.
It’s great to be reminded that I’m not creating in isolation, in my own community, or my own country, but surrounded by continents of artists and a whole world of audiences. It’s quite freeing to think beyond my own perceptions of what theatre is and the possibility of where it could take me.
On the plane home I came across an extract from the writings of WH Auden and was reminded that reflection, self-criticism and authenticity are age-old struggles (I also thought it would make me sound very learned to conclude my blog with a quote from a poet):
”[Every writer] needs approval of his work by others in order to be reassured that the vision of life he believes he has had is a true vision and not a self-delusion but he can only be reassured by those whose judgement he respects . . . No writer can ever judge exactly how good or bad a work of his may be, but he can always know, not immediately perhaps, but certainly in a short while, whether something he has written is authentic – in his handwriting – or a forgery”